The 11-2 New England Patriots welcome the 3-10 Tennessee Titans for their final home game of the 2015 regular season. These are two teams heading in opposite directions and after the egg the Titans laid against the Jets last week, they're in real danger of getting blown off the field by the Patriots.
The Patriots control their fate for the top seed in the AFC, and will clinch at least a first-round bye if they win and the Steelers beat the Broncos. With a tough test coming up next week against the Jets on the road, the Patriots could be tempted to overlook the Titans, but their offense is still finding their stride after dealing with a lot of injuries this year. So there is work to be done, no matter the disparity between these two teams.
For the Titans, rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota has had a promising debut season and should be a building block for years to come. But he doesn't have much to work with right now and will have a tall order to put up points against a Patriots defense that is hitting its stride for the playoffs.
Tennessee at New England
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Patriots -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Delanie Walker
One of the few weapons Marcus Mariota has been able to rely on this season is tight end Delanie Walker, who has 74 receptions for 871 yards and four touchdowns. So it's a pretty good bet the Patriots will focus on taking him completely out of the game. But with Devin McCourty likely out, the Pats' safety depth will be tested and the trickle-down effect could mean primary tight end cover man Patrick Chung will be given different responsibilities. Perhaps even rookie Jordan Richards or veteran Tavon Wilson will be thrust into a primary role against Walker, but the Pats will do their best to remove him as one of Mariota's options.
2. Pats' Offense
Julian Edelman practiced in full pads this past week, but still appears to be a week or two away from returning. In his absence, New England's offense has struggled at times, especially on third down, with Brandon LaFell and Scott Chandler failing to elevate their games. Even when Edelman does return the offense will need contributions from their reserves like the rising Keshawn Martin and newly acquired Leonard Hankerson. The time is now for those players to gain Tom Brady's trust.
3. Who Runs the Ball for New England?
The Patriots' latest injury-related loss for the season was LeGarrette Blount, leaving them with just fill-in running back and special teamer Brandon Bolden and third-down back James White as the only backs on the roster. They signed Montee Ball to the practice squad this week and were meeting with veteran Steven Jackson as well. There will be additions at the position, and it's likely their primary running back for the playoffs is not yet on the active roster. This weekend could be the first glimpse of how things will play out without Blount.
A late-season road game for a team that looked like they gave up last week doesn't have anyone thinking the Titans will suddenly turn it around and win in one of the hardest venues in the NFL. These are often the kind of games where the Patriots mercilessly hang 50 points on the board. The Titans must hope for an early break to give them some momentum, because if they get in an early hole it's going to be a long afternoon for them.